Human rights abuses against parliamentarians reached a new high in 2017, according to Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) statistics. Parliamentarians from Cambodia, Maldives, Turkey and Venezuela alone, where the political situation has been worsening in recent times, account for 35% of the cases.
Cases of abuses against women MPs have also reached a record number this year, having tripled since 2014. El Salvador, Turkey and Venezuela account for this year’s huge increase.
The IPU’s annual review, launched ahead of International Human Rights Day on 10 December, reports that, in 2017 the Organization’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians examined the cases of 507 MPs in 41 countries. These included 62 new cases involving MPs from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Maldives, Palestine and Venezuela. In 2013, for example, there were a total of 266 cases under review.
The Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians seeks to protect and offer redress for parliamentarians whose human rights are at risk or have been abused. Through a dialogue with the countries concerned, the Committee aims to promote concrete solutions that are in line with international and national human rights standards.
“The unprecedented number of cases the Committee is addressing is unacceptable. It is another alarming reminder that democracy, its institutions and MPs are increasingly under threat,” said IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong. “All of us in the parliamentary community need to do better to protect the principles and values of democracy as set out in the IPU’s Universal Declaration on Democracy and guarantee the rights of all our colleagues.”
The regional breakdown of the data shows that 39% of MPs affected by violations are from the Americas, 23% from Asia, 17% from Africa, 12% from Europe, 8% from the Middle East and North Africa, and 1% from the South Pacific.
Most of the MPs concerned are from the opposition, accounting for 76% of the cases.
In 2017, 42 new decisions were adopted by IPU. They express specific concerns, acknowledge progress and setbacks in the cases and call on the authorities of the countries concerned to take effective steps towards a satisfactory settlement of the cases. They also call on all IPU members to take action to assist in finding solutions through an array of measures available pursuant to the principle of parliamentary solidarity.
During the year, the Committee conducted two on-site missions to Mongolia and the Philippines, and mandated two trial observations to Turkey.
The Committee closed 24 cases. 83% of them had been satisfactorily resolved.
The Americas, for the second year, was the region with the most parliamentarians affected by alleged violations. The Committee considered the cases of 200 parliamentarians from seven countries in comparison to 155 in 2016. A sudden surge of new cases from Venezuela accounted for the increase.
Out of the 200 MPs, 72% (144) are from the opposition and 28% (55) from the majority.
Lack of fair trial, undue suspension or revocation of the parliamentary mandate, torture, mistreatment and other acts of violence were the most frequent types of alleged abuses.
The Committee adopted five decisions concerning 169 parliamentarians in four countries.
The Committee reviewed a total of 116 MPs from 13 countries in this region. They are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This figure is a significant increase from previous years, with 78 MPs in 2014, 94 in 2015 and 110 in 2016.
Opposition MPs account for 92% (107) of the complaints with 3% (4) from the majority.
The most common complaints in this region include violations of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrest and detention, followed by torture and ill-treatment.
There were several positive developments in the region. Notably, in Mongolia the government agreed to make publicly available judicial records related to the investigation into the 1998 assassination of Zorig Sanjasuuren, an MP and pro-democracy leader.
Several cases were closed in the region. The Committee closed a longstanding case in Myanmar following wide-ranging reforms and the release of all former members-elect under consideration in the case.
The Committee also closed the cases of three opposition MPs in Malaysia given that they had either been discharged or the charge under the Peaceful Assembly Act had been dismissed.
Finally, there was significant progress in the case against the suspects of the assassination in 2005 of Sri Lankan MP Pararajasingham. Trial for the case is set for this month.
In 2017, the committee adopted a total of 16 decisions concerning 99 parliamentarians in eight countries, and carried out to two on-site missions.
The Committee examined the cases of 88 parliamentarians from 10 countries (Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
Four countries continued to account for the majority of the cases before the Committee: Democratic Republic of the Congo (35), Zambia (14), Madagascar (12) and Eritrea (11).
A total of 65 % (57) of the MPs concerned were from the opposition and 34% (30) from the majority.
The most common alleged violations reported included lack of fair trial and arbitrary arrests.
The Committee adopted seven decisions concerning 20 parliamentarians in six countries as priority cases of urgent concern in 2017, largely located outside of Africa.
The Committee reviewed the cases of 61 parliamentarians from three countries (Belarus, Russian Federation and Turkey). The ongoing examination of a collective case concerning 56 MPs and former MPs in Turkey accounted for this large number of cases in Europe.
All MPs were from the opposition.
In Europe, the most frequent categories of alleged human rights abuses covered violations of freedom of assembly and expression, undue suspension of parliamentary mandate and lack of fair trial.
The cases of two Turkish opposition MPs Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal were closed, following their release from detention. They were cleared of all unsupported terrorism charges at appeals stage after spending over half of their parliamentary term in detention.
The Committee undertook two trial observation missions to Turkey in 2017 and adopted four decisions concerning 59 parliamentarians in two countries.
Middle East and North Africa
The Committee examined the cases of 39 parliamentarians from seven countries in this region in 2017 (Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen).
A total of 64% (25) were from the majority and 28% (15) from the opposition. The proportion of parliamentarians from the majority is much higher than in other regions.
The case of former Iraqi MP Mohamed Al-Dainy was resolved. Mr Al-Dainy was wrongly sentenced to death in 2010 after a travesty of justice, exiled and then jailed upon his return to Iraq. He was finally cleared in 2017 of all charges and released after a presidential pardon seven years later.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions remained the leading violations reported in the region.
The Committee adopted 10 decisions concerning 31 parliamentarians in five countries.
The Committee examined three cases from the South Pacific, all of them in Fiji.
The MPs concerned are all from the opposition.
The allegations were related to the undue suspension of their parliamentary mandate.
To access IPU decisions on the human rights of parliamentarians in 2017, please go to: http://archive.ipu.org/iss-e/hr-cases.htm